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Problem solving (Young HPC | Skills and behaviours)

Life rarely runs completely smoothly. In work it’s much the same. Employees often need to overcome obstacles to achieve their goals. And problem-solving skills can make the difference to how effective you are.

What is problem solving?

We encounter problems every day. From milk that’s gone off to a car that won’t start. We need to find our way around them to achieve the things we want – like breakfast, or getting to work. Problem solving is the art of resolving issues so that you can carry on making progress. Whether it’s getting the bus, fixing the car, buying more milk or choosing toast, there are always solutions. In fact, it’s helpful to regard problems as challenges that can be solved.

Our ability to solve problems is a life skill that we learn from a very early age. Babies soon work out how to get attention, toddlers soon learn to reach for toys or food. We quickly get more sophisticated than that: our use of tools is largely driven by the need to solve problems, for example.

Creativity is an important part of problem solving. Many inventions and gadgets are the result of someone solving a problem in a uniquely useful way.

Solving problems is what most workplaces are set up to do. For example, the UK needs more low carbon energy: Hinkley Point C (HPC) is dedicated to solving that problem.

Problem solving is a skill that’s needed in most jobs. Take this example from the job advert for an Infrastructure Technician at HPC:

“applies structured techniques to common and non-routine problems, testing methodologies and troubleshooting and analyses problems by selecting the digital appropriate tools and techniques in line with organisation guidance and to obtain the relevant logistical support as required”.

Problem solving is a transferable skill, highly regarded by all employers. It can be an important part of team working too, with groups either solving problems together, or individual issues as part of a common project or goal.

Examples of problem solving in action

What are the kind of problems you might encounter at work – and how can you solve them? Let’s look at some simple examples.

Jamal’s bus is cancelled, and he’s worried he’ll be late to work. This is a problem, but there are loads of possible solutions. Jamal might be able to walk. He could get another bus or train that gets him close to work, and walk from there. He could get a taxi. He might be able to return home and grab his bike, or ask a friend or parent for a lift. He could combine any of these methods, or possibly even work from home.

The point is, there are often many ways to solve a problem. Trying something new might even reveal a better approach. Perhaps cycling to work is faster, cheaper, and better for Jamal’s health, for instance.

Izzy has broken a tool she needs to complete the repair on a piece of equipment. It might be possible to complete the work with another, similar tool. But it’s wise to consider the possibility that this could worsen the situation. It might apply the wrong torque, or strip a bolt head instead, for instance.

If the tool is essential, Izzy could check the stores or ask her colleagues. Failing that she could order one or ask for one. Whatever happens, it’s wise to seek help early on, particularly if the work is time- or safety-critical.

Milly has overspent, and can’t make this month’s rent payment. Many people face financial problems from time to time. It’s easy to get surprised by a bill, or just lose track of your spending. The key is to understand that problems are easier to fix if you react early, rather than burying your head in the sand.

If Milly can’t get short-term help from friends or family, she could contact her landlord to explain the problem, and agree a date by which she’ll be able to pay. Landlords value reliable tenants, and may choose to waive or reduce fees provided you communicate. You can get advice on debt from charities such as or the Money Advice Service.

Why is problem solving important in the workplace?

As these examples show, problems come in all shapes and sizes, and there are often multiple ways to solve them. In the workplace, as in life, it’s almost always best to address problems directly and quickly. Tackling them after they’ve spread can be much harder, more expensive or even dangerous.

Problem solving is often a routine part of the working day. For example, you might view an old boiler as a problem that needs to be ‘solved’. The solution involves installing a new boiler, and all the drilling, plumbing, wiring and testing to produce an effective heating system. Larger jobs – particularly on a project the scale of HPC – involve the solving of numerous problems: like routing pipes to avoid other services, tracing a leak in the finished system or ensuring everything in a new installation works together.

Teams often work together to solve problems. Sometimes there’s time to devise and implement a careful plan, such as when planning the construction of a new build. At other times, colleagues might need to think and act quickly together – for example if they’ve cut through an unmarked water pipe.

Working as part of a big team is great for me, as I get to work with my friends, solve challenging problems and engage my brain in my day-to-day role.

Lukas Dendis,
an Apprentice with Bylor

Employers value employees who see problems as challenges to be overcome. Good problem solvers need less day-to-day supervision. They can also improve team working, for example by breaking down complex issues and applying different people’s strengths to each part. These same qualities could help you progress in your own career.

Did you know…?

Problem solving often features amongst the top five skills employers look for.

How might you have demonstrated problem solving at school or college?

You can’t make it through school without solving problems, so you’ll have many examples to call on! You may have intervened in an argument. Helped prevent one by resolving people’s differences before they escalated. Or perhaps you were able to help friends resolve their own problems.

We solve tiny problems to complete even the most straightforward things. We do it so often, in fact, that we no longer think of them as problems. You’ll often have come up against a lack of information when completing work, for example. By learning to fill the gaps with research, you’ve solved those problems without consciously realising it!

You might ask teachers if they can think of specific times where you solved a problem. And if you carry out work experience or have a job, you’ll have some examples of solving problems in the workplace too.

How can you develop this skill?

As with many employability skills, one of the best ways to develop problem solving is to practise it in a job. Typical jobs in hospitality or retail provide plenty of opportunity to use your initiative and develop problem-solving skills. Like resolving a customer complaint or helping a customer find exactly what they’re looking for.

Many people find that visual tools can be useful in understanding and processing problems. For more complex, procedural hurdles, creating a flow chart may help you understand the issues, and see solutions more instinctively.

Try this problem-solving challenge!

Use the power of deduction to work out the answer in this Elimination activity. You’ll need to channel all your problem-solving and logical thinking skills to solve the challenge!

Challenge yourself by looking at problems in the news or your community – and think about how you might solve them. For example, if there’s always a traffic jam on a nearby road, how could the road be improved or traffic reduced? Could it be re-routed or people encouraged to change their habits? How could you achieve this? Would it create any secondary problems? How would you resolve those?

Managing your problems during Covid-19

The Covid-19 pandemic has created problems for all of us. Unable to attend work or college, or to see family and friends, we’ve all had to get more creative. Think back to the start of the lockdown and the problems you encountered. These might include:

  • Not being able to see friends
  • Not being able to attend college
  • Not being able to keep up a team sport


How did you solve these and any other problems? Did you find new ways to socialise, shop, study or exercise?

How can you demonstrate your problem solving?

Employers will want to know that you respond effectively to problems in the workplace. So it’s great to have some examples of how you’ve done this in the past. Ahead of a careers fair or interview, think of two examples where you’ve solved a problem in college or at work.

Make sure you can explain how you identified the problem, what action you took to address it, and how that solved the issue. If you worked with others, this may also be an opportunity to showcase your team-working skills.

If at all possible, try to find examples of problem solving relevant to the job you’re interested in or applying for. For example, if you’ve been studying a trade such as plumbing, and you’re applying for a job as a plumber, what issues have you already encountered and overcome in your role?

Useful links

Strong problem-solving skills can help you in any job, but the more you develop them, the more complex the challenges and commitments you’ll be able to manage in your career. If you’re interested in learning more, take a look at the links below:

  1. Build your problem solving skills using this advice from Youth Employment UK

  2. Problem solving often means harnessing your creativity to come up with entirely new, or better solutions to problems. Discover more in this article

  3. Read how to use flow charts to design and understand processes

Related skills

Problem solving crosses many other skills and behaviours in the workplace.

Being conscientious and dedicating your time to solving a problem shows commitment and a professional attitude. Read more about how to develop commitment in our guide.

Because there isn’t usually one solution to a problem, problem solvers need to be adaptable by nature. Being able to respond to changes in a project brief, your working situation or even your personal life demonstrates adaptability. Read more about this behaviour

By the same token, being willing to confront problems shows you have resilience. This is a really important behaviour to apply in your work and own life. Read more about resilience.

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